Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

Hillary’s Rapist and the War on Women

The second week of Hillary Clinton’s book tour is going a lot better than the first. The former first lady and secretary of state’s gaffes about the “brutality” of American politics and her fib about being broke when she and her husband left the White House made her look foolish rather than the confident president-in-waiting that she wants us to think she is. But now that the dust has settled on the first round of interviews, Hillary is back on message. The news that 100,000 copies of a memoir that is almost devoid of new information or revelations have been sold during the first days since Hard Choices hit the stores is certainly proof of her popularity. Her “town hall” appearance on CNN yesterday seemed more like a pep rally or an episode of Oprah—with the charmless Christiane Amanpour playing the role of host—and did nothing to undermine the narrative of her inevitability. Even better for Clinton, her risky decision to go on Fox News and face far tougher interrogators in Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren paid off not only because she stood up well to their questions and put some space between her positions and those of President Obama, but also because it came hours after the news broke that one of the Benghazi terrorists had been arrested. That’s the kind of incredible stroke of luck that generally only happens to people who are on their way to winning presidential elections.

Needless to say, in none of the interviews about Hillary’s book was she asked about the fact that she once boasted and laughed about helping a child rapist evade justice. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman wrote on Friday in the Washington Free Beacon about how Clinton was caught on tape discussing the case during an interview with Esquire magazine in the 1980s for an article that was never published. In the tapes, which were archived at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Clinton concedes that her client was guilty and that he beat the rap due to prosecutorial incompetence as well as her own attempt to smear the character of the 12-year-old victim in the case. The then-27-year-old Hillary Rodham managed to get the state to agree to a plea bargain in which the rapist, 41-year-old Thomas Alfred Taylor, served less than a year in prison.

While even rapists are entitled to a zealous defense, the jocular way Clinton discusses the case on tape provides a stark contrast to the 66-year-old veteran politician who is readying a run for president largely on the strength of her gender. While this is not the first time the story of the rape case has surfaced0—Newsday ran a story about it in 2008 that had little traction—the resurfacing of this unpleasant episode in Clinton’s biography illustrates two key points about her potential candidacy. One is that despite the fact that the Democratic presidential nomination is hers for the asking, she remains a flawed candidate and a mediocre politician who lacks the smoothness and skills that helped her husband win the White House. The other is that even though this is exactly the sort of story that would doom virtually any other politician, especially a Republican, Hillary can rely on a fawning press corps to ensure that this is an issue that will be largely buried in the mainstream media.

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The second week of Hillary Clinton’s book tour is going a lot better than the first. The former first lady and secretary of state’s gaffes about the “brutality” of American politics and her fib about being broke when she and her husband left the White House made her look foolish rather than the confident president-in-waiting that she wants us to think she is. But now that the dust has settled on the first round of interviews, Hillary is back on message. The news that 100,000 copies of a memoir that is almost devoid of new information or revelations have been sold during the first days since Hard Choices hit the stores is certainly proof of her popularity. Her “town hall” appearance on CNN yesterday seemed more like a pep rally or an episode of Oprah—with the charmless Christiane Amanpour playing the role of host—and did nothing to undermine the narrative of her inevitability. Even better for Clinton, her risky decision to go on Fox News and face far tougher interrogators in Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren paid off not only because she stood up well to their questions and put some space between her positions and those of President Obama, but also because it came hours after the news broke that one of the Benghazi terrorists had been arrested. That’s the kind of incredible stroke of luck that generally only happens to people who are on their way to winning presidential elections.

Needless to say, in none of the interviews about Hillary’s book was she asked about the fact that she once boasted and laughed about helping a child rapist evade justice. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman wrote on Friday in the Washington Free Beacon about how Clinton was caught on tape discussing the case during an interview with Esquire magazine in the 1980s for an article that was never published. In the tapes, which were archived at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Clinton concedes that her client was guilty and that he beat the rap due to prosecutorial incompetence as well as her own attempt to smear the character of the 12-year-old victim in the case. The then-27-year-old Hillary Rodham managed to get the state to agree to a plea bargain in which the rapist, 41-year-old Thomas Alfred Taylor, served less than a year in prison.

While even rapists are entitled to a zealous defense, the jocular way Clinton discusses the case on tape provides a stark contrast to the 66-year-old veteran politician who is readying a run for president largely on the strength of her gender. While this is not the first time the story of the rape case has surfaced0—Newsday ran a story about it in 2008 that had little traction—the resurfacing of this unpleasant episode in Clinton’s biography illustrates two key points about her potential candidacy. One is that despite the fact that the Democratic presidential nomination is hers for the asking, she remains a flawed candidate and a mediocre politician who lacks the smoothness and skills that helped her husband win the White House. The other is that even though this is exactly the sort of story that would doom virtually any other politician, especially a Republican, Hillary can rely on a fawning press corps to ensure that this is an issue that will be largely buried in the mainstream media.

Clinton did talk about her foray into defending sexual predators in her 2003 autobiography Living History, but represented it as a triumph of jurisprudence because of her work discrediting the prosecution’s handling of the evidence. She also said it inspired her to help organize a rape crisis hotline in Fayetteville, a tidbit that is consistent with her representation of her early career as one that was based on defense of the rights of women and children.

While legal expert Ronald Rotunda told Goodman that Clinton’s discussion of her client’s polygraph test results and guilt was unethical, there’s nothing wrong with a lawyer successfully defending a guilty client. But there is a difference between a run-of-the-mill attorney taking on such a case and even boasting about it and a woman who is seeking the presidency doing so. Suffice it to say that, as Melinda Henneberger wrote in the Washington Post, were a conservative to be caught with such a damning admission in their past, it would become part of the Democrat narrative about the Republican “war on women.” But when a liberal who stands a good chance of being the first female president and who has built an image as a champion for women is caught laughing about destroying the life of a child rape victim, it is the sort of thing that most of the media will quickly shove down the proverbial memory hole.

You don’t have to be a Clinton-hater to be cognizant of the ironies involved in Hillary being associated with the worst sort of legal abuse of rape victims. That her husband also successfully evaded sexual harassment charges as well as the accusation of rape by Juanita Broaddrick only makes the story seem even sleazier.

But Hillary needn’t worry about getting the Todd Akin treatment from a media that, as Chris Cuomo noted last week on CNN, “We couldn’t help her any more than we have. She’s just got a free ride from the media.”

Learning about Clinton’s callous legal record doesn’t necessarily disqualify her for the presidency or undermine her attempt to represent herself as uniquely ready for the presidency. But it does call into question not only her claims as a champion for women but also the entire war on women meme used by her party and the fairness of a media culture that is ready to bury this story.

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Why Hillary Complained About America’s “Brutal” Politics

In late June 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia. That same day, the New York Times carried a Reuters dispatch by Chrystia Freeland arguing that–paraphrasing Canadian political figure Michael Ignatieff–dealing with Russia and China “is the greatest strategic and moral question the West faces today.”

Clinton had some experience with both: as secretary of state, she criticized Russia’s imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had his assets seized by the state and was thrown in prison for having the temerity to challenge Vladimir Putin in the political arena. And the month before her trip to St. Petersburg, Clinton had been involved in negotiations with the Chinese government for the release of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Politics is a rough business in China and Russia, as well as a great many other countries Clinton visited as secretary of state. Which makes comments like these seem even more waterlogged with grievance and victimhood than usual:

“Who is the viable woman of either party who could win a primary nomination in 2016, if who not you?” CBS Sunday host Jane Pauley asked Clinton in yet another interview the former First Lady has given during the week of the release of her latest memoir, “Hard Choices.”

“Politics is so unpredictable,” Clinton responded. “Whoever runs has to recognize that the American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world.”

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In late June 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia. That same day, the New York Times carried a Reuters dispatch by Chrystia Freeland arguing that–paraphrasing Canadian political figure Michael Ignatieff–dealing with Russia and China “is the greatest strategic and moral question the West faces today.”

Clinton had some experience with both: as secretary of state, she criticized Russia’s imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had his assets seized by the state and was thrown in prison for having the temerity to challenge Vladimir Putin in the political arena. And the month before her trip to St. Petersburg, Clinton had been involved in negotiations with the Chinese government for the release of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Politics is a rough business in China and Russia, as well as a great many other countries Clinton visited as secretary of state. Which makes comments like these seem even more waterlogged with grievance and victimhood than usual:

“Who is the viable woman of either party who could win a primary nomination in 2016, if who not you?” CBS Sunday host Jane Pauley asked Clinton in yet another interview the former First Lady has given during the week of the release of her latest memoir, “Hard Choices.”

“Politics is so unpredictable,” Clinton responded. “Whoever runs has to recognize that the American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world.”

Ed Morrissey notes at the link that “there was never going to be a good time for a gaffe of this scale, but it’s hard to think of a worse time for it,” considering the raging sectarian conflict in Iraq that has ISIS marching toward Baghdad, the bloody election season in Afghanistan, the setbacks in Burma, and the Assad “election” in Syria, where the body count has been in the six digits for some time now. He adds:

Hillary wants to run on her record as Secretary of State, in part based on the amount of travel she undertook in that role. It’s indisputable that she traveled around the world, but she doesn’t appear to have learned anything from her travels. Aung Sang Suu Kyi might have a different perspective on brutal in relation to political systems, or perhaps the anti-Chavistas in Venezuela could have informed Hillary of what the word actually means. For that matter, nearly everyone in Syria could have explained it to her back in 2011.

That’s an important point. She went into her job at State with an eye toward 2016. So she studiously avoided the kinds of issues that would bog her down, risk adding major failures to her resume, or prejudice the sides in a dispute she would want to take up later on if she won the presidency. That left traveling. A lot. When asked to name her accomplishments at State, she can’t. Neither can her defenders (try as they might). It always comes down to traveling. She’s been everywhere, man.

But what did she learn? Not enough, apparently. Not that anyone really takes this comment at face value. Rather, this is another instance of Clinton’s overly defensive reflex to work the refs. American politics ain’t beanbag, it’s true. But it’s closer to it than much of the world’s politics.

Clinton has been subject to some unfair attacks–just like other would-be presidents–but she has always taken a conspiratorial view of the world bordering on paranoia. She will be treated far better on the campaign trail than any Republican, and if she wins her party’s nomination she’ll see that right away. She will persist, however, in treating all criticism of her as part of the battle progress (represented by Clinton) must fight against bias, bigotry, and regression (represented chiefly by Republicans, but also journalists who ask her questions).

Clinton was secretary of state at a momentous time (isn’t it always?) for the world, with revolutions sweeping across the Middle East and all the way to Russia’s borders. But in Russia, as in countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Iran, those looking to overthrow their rulers could only have dreamed of the task that faces Hillary: a free and fair election and a peaceful transfer of power. She does the many brave and brutalized dissidents around the world a disservice by putting herself in their company.

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Does Obama Believe He Is Irrelevant?

I agree with Andrew McCarthy over at National Review that George W. Bush deserves some of the blame for the cascade of events in which Iraq now finds itself. Bush thought by agreeing to a drawdown and withdrawal of combat troops, he would be doing the gentlemanly thing and would allow his successor a fresh start. Alas, it is always a mistake to try to force international problems to conform to the American political calendar, and that is exactly what Bush did.

But those on the left who circulate talking points absolving President Barack Obama of any responsibility for what has happened in Iraq, and those who those who propagate them, seem to suggest that Obama and his national security team are irrelevant. Iraq’s fate was decided in 2003, they imply, and Obama bears no responsibility for what has occurred since he won the presidency. That is wrong: While the world does not revolve around Washington, American decisions can and do matter as does the choice of inaction.

Obama has at least been principled in his objection to the Iraq war. Unlike Secretary of State John Kerry or his predecessor in Foggy Bottom, Hillary Clinton, Obama was not for it before he was against it. But his disdain for George W. Bush’s decision to use force to oust Saddam Hussein trumped any desire to reach the best possible outcome. He was cynical: By refusing to take yes for an answer in retaining any U.S. forces in training or support capacities in Iraq (the Iraqi government was willing to grant immunity, but the White House demand to have the Iraqi parliament ratify that was both unnecessary and a bridge too far) Obama condemned Iraq to greater bloodshed. For Obama, it was a political calculation: He would fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw from the “bad war” completely. If Iraq fell apart, he could blame Bush. And if it managed to hold together, he could claim credit for having the foresight to leave. In effect, he was willing to gamble a country of great geopolitical interest and a state in which the United States had invested heavily in blood and treasure for cynical political motives. He treated Iraqis like pawns, and forfeited the responsibility to make decisions which could nudge Iraq toward a more stable, pro-Western outcome.

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I agree with Andrew McCarthy over at National Review that George W. Bush deserves some of the blame for the cascade of events in which Iraq now finds itself. Bush thought by agreeing to a drawdown and withdrawal of combat troops, he would be doing the gentlemanly thing and would allow his successor a fresh start. Alas, it is always a mistake to try to force international problems to conform to the American political calendar, and that is exactly what Bush did.

But those on the left who circulate talking points absolving President Barack Obama of any responsibility for what has happened in Iraq, and those who those who propagate them, seem to suggest that Obama and his national security team are irrelevant. Iraq’s fate was decided in 2003, they imply, and Obama bears no responsibility for what has occurred since he won the presidency. That is wrong: While the world does not revolve around Washington, American decisions can and do matter as does the choice of inaction.

Obama has at least been principled in his objection to the Iraq war. Unlike Secretary of State John Kerry or his predecessor in Foggy Bottom, Hillary Clinton, Obama was not for it before he was against it. But his disdain for George W. Bush’s decision to use force to oust Saddam Hussein trumped any desire to reach the best possible outcome. He was cynical: By refusing to take yes for an answer in retaining any U.S. forces in training or support capacities in Iraq (the Iraqi government was willing to grant immunity, but the White House demand to have the Iraqi parliament ratify that was both unnecessary and a bridge too far) Obama condemned Iraq to greater bloodshed. For Obama, it was a political calculation: He would fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw from the “bad war” completely. If Iraq fell apart, he could blame Bush. And if it managed to hold together, he could claim credit for having the foresight to leave. In effect, he was willing to gamble a country of great geopolitical interest and a state in which the United States had invested heavily in blood and treasure for cynical political motives. He treated Iraqis like pawns, and forfeited the responsibility to make decisions which could nudge Iraq toward a more stable, pro-Western outcome.

Working in the Pentagon between September 2002 and April 2004, I was involved (admittedly, at a pretty low level) in many policy debates. A few I came out on the winning side. Most—including with regard to the longer term occupation of Iraq—the team on which I served lost. But taking the cards we were dealt and seeking the best possible outcome given that new hand was a guiding principle. Unfortunately, Obama stopped engaging the moment he entered the White House because of a 2003 decision with which he disagreed. Leadership is not claiming the buck stopped ten years ago; leadership is about making decisions and taking responsibility for them now.

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Lessons From Hillary’s Bad Week

Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

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Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

Another telling moment came when Sawyer placed before Clinton all the warnings that bad things were afoot in Benghazi. “Did you miss it? Did you miss the moment to prevent this from happening?” Sawyer asked. Clinton’s response started with these two words: “No, but …”

The lesson here seems to be that Clinton bought into the left’s idea that Benghazi is a silly controversy and there’s nothing left to answer for. That’s not remotely true, as Diane Sawyer showed when she pressed Clinton to offer more than a canned one-line dismissal and actually answer detailed questions about what went wrong.

Yesterday, Clinton had yet another difficult interview, this one about her flip-flop on gay marriage. When gay marriage was unpopular, Clinton was opposed. Once it was advantageous in a Democratic primary to support it, that’s where she found herself. It’s a reminder that Clinton is a walking focus group. (Her “memoir has the cautious, polished, poll-tested feel of a campaign speech,” complains the Economist.)

Here’s Politico on Clinton’s interview with NPR:

NPR’s Terry Gross was interviewing Clinton about her newly released memoir, “Hard Choices.” She repeatedly asked the former secretary of state whether her opinion on gay marriage had changed, or whether the political dynamics had shifted enough that she could express her opinion.
“I have to say, I think you are being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said.

“I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand …” Gross said.

“No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify,” Clinton snapped back. “I think you’re trying to say I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record, I have a great commitment to this issue, and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.”

There’s more, but that’s probably the worst of it. The lesson here would be that it’s OK with Democrats to have flip-flopped on this. They’ll say you “evolved,” as long as you offer some kind of plausible explanation. Clinton doesn’t have to shy away from her hypocrisy, but she has to avoid getting so defensive that she gives the impression she has something to hide.

Will she learn the lessons of her disastrous week, and get the hang of campaigning? The silver lining for Clinton is that regardless of the answer to that question, this week’s missteps are sure to be ancient history in 2016.

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Hillary’s “Broke” Gaffe and Inevitability

When Bill Clinton was presiding over the American political scene, most observers understood that part of the key to understanding his ability to connect with voters was his legendary ability to “feel your pain.” President Clinton’s ability to make people think he not only cared about them but also actually understood their trouble was a natural talent and a form of political genius. But like most natural talents, this skill can’t really be taught or transferred to another person. Even if that person has been watching Clinton closely for more than 40 years as his wife. It is in that context that we should regard Hillary Clinton’s cringe-inducing statement in the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer that launched her book tour about being “dead broke” when she and Bill left the White House in 2001.

In the strict sense of the word, this statement was true. The Clintons did not have, as many politicians do, inherited wealth. While Hillary was a well-compensated lawyer before she became first lady, other than a brief stint as a law professor her husband hasn’t had an honest job in his entire life since he had been running for office since emerging from Yale Law School. But to speak of the Clintons as broke in 2001 is to engage in the kind of deceit that voters can smell a mile away. Like all ex-presidents and first ladies, but especially those who were both popular and engaged in heated controversies like the Lewinsky scandal, their financial prospects were, to put it mildly, rosy. In the 13-plus years since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speaking fees and both made fortunes writing their memoirs. They may have had a temporary cash flow problem in January 2001, but were soon rolling in it. Thus, for her to speak of their plight in 2001 when, as she put it:

We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.

No, I suppose it wasn’t. But somehow with the help of generous donors, publishers, and those eager to pay six-figure fees for the honor of hosting the ex-president, they managed to pay their l’affaire Lewinsky lawyer fees as well as obtain multiple mortgages and houses that Clinton referenced when she used those words in the plural. But then again, Clinton had already gotten an $8 million advance for her memoirs even before her husband’s term ended.

Should this influence anyone’s opinion of her qualifications to be president? Strictly speaking, no. As Seth wrote earlier, her lackluster record as secretary of state, which her backers are furiously trying to rationalize, stands as a rebuke to her efforts to portray herself as ready for the presidency without our having to delve into their finances. The Clintons are now as rich as most of their peers, both Democrat and Republican, among Washington elites and may well be far less wealthy than the likes of John Kerry and John McCain, both of whom married money. But what this gaffe tells us is that while the widespread support for the idea that it is time we had a female president makes her the odds-on favorite for 2016, this Clinton still has the same tin ear for public opinion that hamstringed her 2008 presidential run.

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When Bill Clinton was presiding over the American political scene, most observers understood that part of the key to understanding his ability to connect with voters was his legendary ability to “feel your pain.” President Clinton’s ability to make people think he not only cared about them but also actually understood their trouble was a natural talent and a form of political genius. But like most natural talents, this skill can’t really be taught or transferred to another person. Even if that person has been watching Clinton closely for more than 40 years as his wife. It is in that context that we should regard Hillary Clinton’s cringe-inducing statement in the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer that launched her book tour about being “dead broke” when she and Bill left the White House in 2001.

In the strict sense of the word, this statement was true. The Clintons did not have, as many politicians do, inherited wealth. While Hillary was a well-compensated lawyer before she became first lady, other than a brief stint as a law professor her husband hasn’t had an honest job in his entire life since he had been running for office since emerging from Yale Law School. But to speak of the Clintons as broke in 2001 is to engage in the kind of deceit that voters can smell a mile away. Like all ex-presidents and first ladies, but especially those who were both popular and engaged in heated controversies like the Lewinsky scandal, their financial prospects were, to put it mildly, rosy. In the 13-plus years since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speaking fees and both made fortunes writing their memoirs. They may have had a temporary cash flow problem in January 2001, but were soon rolling in it. Thus, for her to speak of their plight in 2001 when, as she put it:

We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.

No, I suppose it wasn’t. But somehow with the help of generous donors, publishers, and those eager to pay six-figure fees for the honor of hosting the ex-president, they managed to pay their l’affaire Lewinsky lawyer fees as well as obtain multiple mortgages and houses that Clinton referenced when she used those words in the plural. But then again, Clinton had already gotten an $8 million advance for her memoirs even before her husband’s term ended.

Should this influence anyone’s opinion of her qualifications to be president? Strictly speaking, no. As Seth wrote earlier, her lackluster record as secretary of state, which her backers are furiously trying to rationalize, stands as a rebuke to her efforts to portray herself as ready for the presidency without our having to delve into their finances. The Clintons are now as rich as most of their peers, both Democrat and Republican, among Washington elites and may well be far less wealthy than the likes of John Kerry and John McCain, both of whom married money. But what this gaffe tells us is that while the widespread support for the idea that it is time we had a female president makes her the odds-on favorite for 2016, this Clinton still has the same tin ear for public opinion that hamstringed her 2008 presidential run.

Making speeches is not quite as easy as simply sitting back and letting your investments make money, as some wealthy folks do. But when most people think of working “very hard,” as Mrs. Clinton described her husband’s task, as well as her own ability to generate more than $5 million in fees since leaving the State Department, they don’t generally mean giving speeches. Taking a first class flight to resorts and other exclusive venues where the hard worker must be subjected to non-stop flattery, luxury accommodations, an appreciative audience for any platitudes he’s prepared to spin before accepting a huge check for his troubles, does take effort and a degree of skill–but it is not exactly working for a living. The same applies to writing a book with the help of staffs and researchers that ordinary authors could never dream of having.

The problem here is that Democrats do best when exploiting the natural resentment that most ordinary Americans feel about the rich. Filthy rich Democrats can play this card as easily as poor ones (see Roosevelt, Franklin and Kennedy, John, to name just a couple) but in order to do so they must never pretend to be anything other than what they are. For a person with multiple mansions, like the Clinton’s humble cottage in Chappaqua, New York to complain about what they had to do initially finance these transactions is, at best, bad form, and, at worst, a clear misreading of public opinion. It is, in short, exactly the kind of a mistake that Bill Clinton would never make.

In other words, this foolish sound bite is a sign that Hillary is still a politician who is capable of the sort of unforced errors that her husband only made when it came to sex. While it is not clear whether this will encourage some intrepid left-wing Democrat to attempt to derail her coronation as her party’s presidential nominee, it should alert Republicans to the fact that Hillary is vulnerable. Though she starts the 2016 cycle as the odds-on favorite, a candidate that could make a mistake like this should never be considered inevitable.

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Clinton’s Task: Spin the Unspinnable

Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

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Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

“When politicians have trouble spinning their own glories, that’s a problem,” he begins. That is correct. He continues:

So it was bizarre that Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked at a forum in April about her legacy at the State Department, had trouble articulating it. That feeds into a narrative — awaiting her memoir on Tuesday — that she may have been glamorous as secretary of state but didn’t actually accomplish much.

In fact, that’s dead wrong, for Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.”

Uh-oh. Is it possible Clinton “achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy” yet that legacy was, at the same time, so subtle as to be unidentifiable even to Hillary herself? Apparently so. But what follows are a series of claims Kristof then, in the next breath, debunks himself.

For example, Kristof says “Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations.” Yet here’s his very next sentence: “She didn’t fully deliver on this ‘pivot’ — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them — but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue.” She didn’t accomplish her goal, but that’s OK because she recognized, along with everyone else in the entire world, that China is important.

“She was often more hawkish than the White House,” Kristof argues, and notes Clinton’s support for arming Syrian rebels. This was “vetoed” by Obama, Kristof rightly explains, so it’s a bit unclear what part of nonexistent policies established this “hefty legacy” we keep hearing about.

Later, Kristof returns to the well-worn topic of Clinton prioritizing (translation: giving speeches about) the rights of women and girls worldwide. And here’s Kristof’s example: “The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls in April was the kind of issue Clinton was out front of.” Yes, well, here’s the thing: Clinton wasn’t secretary of state anymore in April; John Kerry was.

It appears Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state was so forgettable as to be literally forgotten by her defenders. She is not in office currently, and her impact is, apparently, indistinguishable from when she was actually in office. This is the Clinton “legacy,” such as it is. Even the best “book team” can only dress it up so much.

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Cuomo’s Left Flank Gets Back in Line

Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

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Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

With the clock ticking, Mr. Cuomo spoke by phone to a smaller group backstage, including a top aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Emma Wolfe, and WFP members Jonathan Westin, Javier Valdes and Deborah Axt. This time, Mr. Cuomo used the agreed-upon language (concerning giving local authorities the ability to adjust the minimum wage within a formula), according to people familiar with the call.

Why would Cuomo go through all that trouble just to secure his left flank? The answer is that the WFP is more influential, and can make more trouble, than people outside the New York area (most of whom haven’t heard of the party) tend to think. As the Times mentioned in its report, a recent statewide Quinnipiac poll found Cuomo at 57 percent in a one-on-one matchup with Astorino, but sliding to 37 percent with the addition of a WFP candidate on the ballot.

In reality, the high drama wasn’t all that dramatic. Cuomo doesn’t want a challenger to his left because he doesn’t want the narrative of being too conservative, not because he would actually have his reelection spoiled by the WFP. The WFP wanted something similar: they know they can’t cost Cuomo his reelection, but they don’t want the narrative of seeming to cave on principle.

So Cuomo pretended to care about their opinions, and the WFP leadership pretended to believe him.

None of this is particularly surprising, and in fact speaks to the general mood of the left nationwide. The Democrats have, almost without exception, become the party of government. Their agenda is the agenda of the state, and their power is the bureaucracy. This wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Democrats believed the establishment was essentially conservative–not just the government’s muscular foreign policy but the social mores of the age as well. Even as late as 1980 there was a genuine struggle within the party, leading to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to a sitting Democratic president–a turn of events hard to imagine taking place today.

But today’s conformist left takes it one step further. While the Republicans were struggling to free their party from next-in-linism, the Democrats became the party of get-in-linism. Forget truly challenging a sitting president; the Democrats don’t want a primary fight for an open nomination, as evidenced by the emerging Clinton juggernaut. They went from challenging an incumbent president to hesitant to challenge a presumptive nominee.

This is not, by the way, spinelessness. It’s logic. As the Democrats’ policies have become increasingly unpopular, the party’s approach to governance has adjusted accordingly. Rather than compromise on legislation, they have simply empowered unelected bureaucrats and shielded them (not always successfully) from accountability. This has become a vicious circle: if Democrats don’t have to win public approval for their actions, they become less adept at engaging actual arguments, which forces them to turn to ever more executive power grabs.

It also means left-wing activists, such as those at the WFP, have more to gain by getting in line and ensuring Democrats win elections, because the vast expansion of the bureaucracy means there are more spoils to go around. The WFP is not going to defeat Cuomo, but they do need to make an occasional point about their own relevance. Their point has now been made, and they’re back in line. And the party of government rolls on.

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Abolish the Vice Presidency

The drama surrounding Hillary Clinton’s prospective candidacy has made writing about the 2016 presidential election nearly unavoidable. But the possibility of a Clinton coronation has led to some expanded predictions: we’re now–in mid-2014–talking about running mates. This was primarily driven by the suggestion that Democrats were positioning San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for a spot on the 2016 ticket.

That led to speculation over who the Republicans would nominate for vice president, and since in this scenario they’d be running against two “historic” nominees, the question simply becomes one of race and gender identity politics. Not content with Castro, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein is now fretting over the Democrats’ veep bench for 2016, though Doug Mataconis has an excellent post offering Bernstein some perspective on the matter.

But there’s a way out of this madness, and this is a good opportunity do something that’s made sense for a very long time: abolish the vice presidency.

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The drama surrounding Hillary Clinton’s prospective candidacy has made writing about the 2016 presidential election nearly unavoidable. But the possibility of a Clinton coronation has led to some expanded predictions: we’re now–in mid-2014–talking about running mates. This was primarily driven by the suggestion that Democrats were positioning San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for a spot on the 2016 ticket.

That led to speculation over who the Republicans would nominate for vice president, and since in this scenario they’d be running against two “historic” nominees, the question simply becomes one of race and gender identity politics. Not content with Castro, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein is now fretting over the Democrats’ veep bench for 2016, though Doug Mataconis has an excellent post offering Bernstein some perspective on the matter.

But there’s a way out of this madness, and this is a good opportunity do something that’s made sense for a very long time: abolish the vice presidency.

It’s not a new idea, but it’s worth revisiting now that the parties are apparently choosing the next-in-line by playing the matching game. This certainly isn’t an upgrade over the last method, in which presidential nominees placed questionable geographic bets with their veep selections. That at least had the advantage of choosing a recognized and relatively popular–and thus, usually experienced–legislator or governor.

But we don’t need to agonize over how we choose the vice president. We can free ourselves by getting rid of the vice presidency altogether. First and foremost, the vice presidency has strayed–and actually, it did so almost from the very beginning–from the Founders’ idea of the position, which they weren’t exactly wild about to start with. As Arthur Schlesinger wrote in his 1974 Atlantic essay:

The vice presidency was put into the Constitution for one reason, and one reason alone. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, a member of the committee that originated the idea, conceded at the Convention that “such an office as vice-president was not wanted. It was introduced only for the sake of a valuable mode of election which required two to be chosen at the same time.” This is an essential but neglected point. The theory of presidential elections embodied in the Constitution was that if electors had to vote for two men without designating which was to be President and which Vice President, and if one of these men had, as the Constitution required, to be from another state, then both men who topped the poll would be of the highest quality, and the republic would be safe in the hands of either. …

In 1800 the Republicans gave the same number of electoral votes to Jefferson, their presidential choice, as they gave to Aaron Burr, a man of undoubted talents who, however, was trusted by no one in the long course of American history, except his daughter Theodosia and Gore Vidal. Burr was nearly chosen President, though the voters never intended him for the presidency. The fear of comparable slipups in 1804 led to the adoption of the Twelfth Amendment requiring the electoral college to vote separately for President and Vice President.

The abolition of the “valuable mode of election” canceled the purpose of the Founding Fathers in having a Vice President at all.

Indeed it did. What’s frustrating about the evolution of the vice presidency is that it was not only predictable but predicted. All throughout American history politicians and commentators offered nothing toward the office but acid and pity. (Schlesinger’s own article begins: “We have a Vice President again, and Mr. Ford deserves all our sympathy.”)

The vice presidency gains a fair amount of legitimacy from the fact that, technically, he or she has been elected by national vote. But my goodness that “technically” should not get the office so far. The American people vote for the top of the ticket. The vice presidential nominee is, in the minds of the voters at least, an add-on. When current Vice President Joe Biden ran for the top job, the reaction of his own party’s voters was consistent, overwhelming rejection. He is something like a sixty-point underdog to win his own party’s nomination to succeed the president he now serves.

The electoral legitimacy of the vice president is not only dubious, therefore, but dangerous. What we have is a next-in-line who basically got there by appointment and is often far less prepared to take over than other members of the president’s Cabinet. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that.

So who would replace the vice president in the line of automatic succession? Anyone else would possess less electoral legitimacy than the current vice president unless it was a leader of one of the houses of Congress, in which case upon presidential vacancy the high office could switch parties without an election, an outcome that should be avoided.

Perhaps someone–the secretary of state, say–could take over on a provisional basis while a national election could be organized. Ideally they would not be considered “president,” but that has its own drawbacks: could they sign bills or treaties? The following election would have to take place relatively soon, which means a brief nominating and general-election period. But that has advantages. After all, we have the opposite now, and we’re left filling time and space by talking, regrettably, about vice-presidential nominees.

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Local Electricity Trumps Star Power in Philly

Yesterday, in a cliché-ridden piece that our colleague John Podhoretz referred to on Facebook as the worst column he had ever read, the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman informed the world that “local is over.” What does that mean? According to Friedman, it has to do with technology and a dustup in an elevator between celebrities. Using the same incoherent reasoning, Friedman also claims that “average is over” because of the advances of technology and that “later is over” because of something to do with global warming. Such nonsense merits no response, but it’s worth pointing out that anyone who doubted the importance of local should have spent Tuesday night in the Philadelphia area. There, a veteran politician with high name recognition, lots of money, and celebrity political endorsements got taken apart in a Democratic congressional primary by a youngster with less money and no love from national power brokers.

The veteran politician in question was Marjorie Margolies, who is best known these days for being Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. But 20 years ago she was a member of Congress from the Philly suburbs of Montgomery County who famously cast the deciding vote to pass President Bill Clinton’s budget. She was then swept away in the 1994 Republican landslide. The seat was quickly won back by the Democrats in 1996 and held ever since, most recently by Allyson Schwartz, who was clobbered in her attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor. But with Schwartz leaving the House, Margolies decided to mount a comeback and with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s help, she figured to have an easy time winning the nomination for Pennsylvania’s 13th district. But instead, Margolies was badly beaten by State Representative Brendan Boyle, a 37-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia with the face of a choirboy and the backing of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful unions.

Margolies’s loss is being interpreted in some quarters as also being a defeat for the Clintons, especially since she was the first person to be endorsed by Hillary in this election cycle. That was the conceit of a Josh Kraushaar piece published yesterday in National Journal under the headline “The Clinton Magic Fades in Philadelphia.” While the story wasn’t as bad as the headline, that take on the Margolies loss just doesn’t jive with reality. Why? Because, contrary to Tom Friedman’s column, in politics, local is very much not over.

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Yesterday, in a cliché-ridden piece that our colleague John Podhoretz referred to on Facebook as the worst column he had ever read, the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman informed the world that “local is over.” What does that mean? According to Friedman, it has to do with technology and a dustup in an elevator between celebrities. Using the same incoherent reasoning, Friedman also claims that “average is over” because of the advances of technology and that “later is over” because of something to do with global warming. Such nonsense merits no response, but it’s worth pointing out that anyone who doubted the importance of local should have spent Tuesday night in the Philadelphia area. There, a veteran politician with high name recognition, lots of money, and celebrity political endorsements got taken apart in a Democratic congressional primary by a youngster with less money and no love from national power brokers.

The veteran politician in question was Marjorie Margolies, who is best known these days for being Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. But 20 years ago she was a member of Congress from the Philly suburbs of Montgomery County who famously cast the deciding vote to pass President Bill Clinton’s budget. She was then swept away in the 1994 Republican landslide. The seat was quickly won back by the Democrats in 1996 and held ever since, most recently by Allyson Schwartz, who was clobbered in her attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor. But with Schwartz leaving the House, Margolies decided to mount a comeback and with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s help, she figured to have an easy time winning the nomination for Pennsylvania’s 13th district. But instead, Margolies was badly beaten by State Representative Brendan Boyle, a 37-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia with the face of a choirboy and the backing of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful unions.

Margolies’s loss is being interpreted in some quarters as also being a defeat for the Clintons, especially since she was the first person to be endorsed by Hillary in this election cycle. That was the conceit of a Josh Kraushaar piece published yesterday in National Journal under the headline “The Clinton Magic Fades in Philadelphia.” While the story wasn’t as bad as the headline, that take on the Margolies loss just doesn’t jive with reality. Why? Because, contrary to Tom Friedman’s column, in politics, local is very much not over.

As anyone who has covered Philadelphia (as I did for a decade) can tell you, it is a city and region whose political culture is a throwback to what was commonplace in American urban areas a half century ago. While unions and political machines are pretty much passé just about everywhere else, they are still strong in the City of Brotherly Love. While Tammany Hall went the way of all flesh back in the 1960s, the Democratic vote-gathering operation in Philly is still formidable and is built on the same bedrock of patronage and organized labor upon which the party’s governing coalitions in most cities depended.

So while Margolies had Clinton star power, Boyle had a far more important source of local electricity, John J. Dougherty, the tough-as-nails head of the Electricians Union known as “Johnny Doc” who wields more power in the city than even the former president and the woman that aspires to return to the White House in 2017. With the 13th split between suburban Montgomery County and Northeast Philly (whose working class inhabitants make it roughly analogous to New York City’s borough of Queens), Margolies found herself competing with two other liberal suburbanites while Boyle had the city portion of the district pretty much to himself. Boyle was outspent by Margolies and the other candidates and was subjected to a vigorous assault from feminist groups like Emily’s List that blasted him for his vote in the state legislature for more scrutiny on abortion clinics after the Kermit Gosnell murder case.

But the moral of the story is that even a candidate who is portrayed as a Democratic fellow-traveler in the so-called Republican “war on women” and who has the most popular Democrats in the country campaigning for his opponent can win a primary in a deep-blue region if he has the cash and the ground troops of a formidable turnout machine to back him. If anyone’s magic should be questioned in the wake of this primary, it is the pro-abortion lobby since it gambled its reputation on trashing Boyle despite the fact that he is actually, like most Democrats, a backer of abortion rights even if, like most Americans, he thinks abortion clinics should be more closely regulated.

It’s true that Margolies’s loss doesn’t enhance the Clintons’ prestige, but no one should question their magical hold on the affection of Democrats. If Hillary runs, she will sweep the 13th district in any presidential primary and the general election. However, in most places in the country, local power will always beat national interests, and that is especially true in Philadelphia. Local is not only not over, it remains the trump card in any political race and any politician or pundit who forgets that should not be taken seriously.

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Brian Schweitzer: First Into the Sea

Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

He slams Mrs. Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, her courting of corporate campaign cash and her vote for the Iraq war as senator, a jab he delivered during a trip through Iowa in December.

Such outspoken criticism of Mrs. Clinton, rare among Democrats, inspires some leaders in the party’s left wing, who are disillusioned with President Obama and soured by prospects of an unchallenged Clinton candidacy in 2016.

Montana has more cattle than people, making Mr. Schweitzer a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, should he even try. Complicating things further, the former two-term governor has little name recognition, little money and a big appetite for oil and gas exploration.

But some Democrats say Mr. Schweitzer has a chance at an important role: the maverick who speaks for disillusioned liberals, calls out Mrs. Clinton’s vulnerabilities and, perhaps, prods a more liberal champion into the race.

To be sure, the article mostly treats the strategy slightly differently than I do. It’s pitched here as way to open the path to someone challenging Clinton in the primaries. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I imagine Schweitzer is well aware of just how difficult it would be to defeat Clinton once she’s in the race, and I suspect he is also conscious of the lack of Democrats who could plausibly run on this platform who would also run against the Clinton machine. And he surely well knows that if his own presidential ambitions are serious, he needs Clinton not to run at all.

Additionally, even if more serious populist Democrats ran against Clinton in the primaries, all that would do is pull Clinton’s own rhetoric to the left. Clinton wouldn’t drink a glass of orange juice that hasn’t been focus-grouped and poll tested. If railing against the one percent or some other mindless liberal cliché polls well in the primaries, that’s what she’ll say. Once the nominee, she’ll tack to the center. She won’t lose Democratic base votes no matter what she does: American left-liberalism is guided by the ideology of power with a dash of progressive identity politics. Clinton is their perfect nominee, no matter how many checks she gets from Wall Street.

To wit: Clinton is already responding to Schweitzer’s populist critique as expected. The same Journal story has a quote from her spokesman:

Asked about all of the ex-governor’s criticisms, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “She’s proud to have spent a lifetime fighting for equality and opportunity for all people, from jobs and education to health care and voting, and will continue to do so.”

Schweitzer also poses one more challenge to Clinton. Progressive identity politics is bitter and completely humorless. Schweitzer, in contrast to virtually every high-profile Democrat in the country, is funny and charming. Angry populism is something Clinton can mimic, if need be. She can excel at playing the victim. But lighthearted, down-to-earth populism? That’s her Achilles’ heel.

Thus while the odds are still against Schweitzer, he’s probably the right Democrat to make this play. Democrats around the country no doubt expect the sea to swallow him. But they’ll be watching just in case.

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The Logic of Castro’s Nomination: It’s More Than Identity Politics

The expected nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to lead the Obama administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development–a Cabinet-level post–has earned much attention from both sides of the aisle. Almost none of the commentary, however, has had to do with Castro’s qualifications for HUD. Most of it has had to do with the fact that the Democrats have been eyeing Castro as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2016.

Democrats don’t seem to want to nominate a sitting mayor for vice president–too big a leap perhaps. This is especially true for Castro, because, as Allahpundit notes, the San Antonio mayor’s office is “a figurehead role,” without much responsibility or even a regular salary. In fact, San Antonio’s city manager reportedly receives a salary of $355,000, while Mayor Castro gets a $3,000 stipend plus $20 for every council meeting he attends. The San Antonio mayoralty is essentially the city government version of a department store greeter, except with fewer hours and less pay.

In addition to Allahpundit’s piece, Ben Domenech’s treatment of the issue in this morning’s Transom is worth reading. But I think there’s a point being missed here. Everyone is mentioning the fact that Castro is an ideal vice-presidential candidate because of his youth and his Hispanic heritage, as well as his connections to a red state. That is true. But he’s a perfect candidate for the Democrats for another reason. Allahpundit touches on it as a strike against him:

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The expected nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to lead the Obama administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development–a Cabinet-level post–has earned much attention from both sides of the aisle. Almost none of the commentary, however, has had to do with Castro’s qualifications for HUD. Most of it has had to do with the fact that the Democrats have been eyeing Castro as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2016.

Democrats don’t seem to want to nominate a sitting mayor for vice president–too big a leap perhaps. This is especially true for Castro, because, as Allahpundit notes, the San Antonio mayor’s office is “a figurehead role,” without much responsibility or even a regular salary. In fact, San Antonio’s city manager reportedly receives a salary of $355,000, while Mayor Castro gets a $3,000 stipend plus $20 for every council meeting he attends. The San Antonio mayoralty is essentially the city government version of a department store greeter, except with fewer hours and less pay.

In addition to Allahpundit’s piece, Ben Domenech’s treatment of the issue in this morning’s Transom is worth reading. But I think there’s a point being missed here. Everyone is mentioning the fact that Castro is an ideal vice-presidential candidate because of his youth and his Hispanic heritage, as well as his connections to a red state. That is true. But he’s a perfect candidate for the Democrats for another reason. Allahpundit touches on it as a strike against him:

Essentially he’s a Latino Obama, except with much less experience. If he ends up as VP in 2016, he’d be the youngest veep since Dan Quayle (who had spent eight years in the Senate by the time he was sworn in) and indisputably the one with the thinnest resume, which means, if Hillary’s health goes south, the free world could conceivably be led circa 2018 by a guy whose main qualification was a two-year sinecure atop America’s housing bureau. But look at it this way. If they’re going to have a pure identity-politics candidate at the top of the ticket, why shouldn’t they also have one at the bottom?

Emphasis is in the original, but I think it’s worth emphasizing as well. Allahpundit says this as a kind of warning: if you thought Obama was unprepared for office, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Politico notes that Hillary Clinton was asked last week about the possibility of adding Castro to the ticket and that Castro has been asked before to join the Cabinet, so the Democrats have been looking for a way to elevate Castro for some time.

When you consider what Castro’s current day job entails, the question obviously arises: since no one the Republicans have ever nominated for the vice presidency comes close to being this inexperienced or unqualified–Sarah Palin was a governor, after all–does this make Democrats world-class hypocrites? Yes for the obvious reasons, but in the Democrats’ defense, they don’t see it that way, and there’s a logical process that leads them there.

To understand why this is, you have to remember how the Democratic Party, as a vehicle for American left-liberalism, approaches the task of governing. Yet again today the president’s press secretary said the White House learned about the Veterans Affairs scandal through the media–that is, those in the White House have no idea what’s going on in their own administration. This is a popular excuse for the president, because what he’s looking for is not responsibility but plausible deniability. Liberalism in a government this size is a recipe for disaster; Obama knows it will fail on his watch at a great many of its tasks. His desire is to somehow avoid blame for the array of inevitable failures of his administration.

The best description of the Obama presidency in recent memory is Kevin Williamson’s August essay for National Review, which paints Obama, accurately, as “the nominal leader for permanent bureaucracy.” The health-care law that Congress passed as ObamaCare, cruel and garbled as it is, resembles only in certain ways the ObamaCare the president is implementing. That’s because Congress passed the outlines of a law Obama then placed into the hands of his bureaucrats, such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Democrats in Congress have tried, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to limit political speech in ways that would benefit liberal organizations and candidates at the expense of conservative ones. But they have often been stymied by the political process, because their ideas are unconstitutional. Enter the IRS, which targeted conservative groups, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats in the Congress and the White House, during the two election cycles before they were discovered after Obama’s reelection.

Democrats didn’t like the effect of the democratic process on their attempts to extensively regulate the private sector. So they created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an unaccountable bureaucracy to which the president made an unconstitutional appointment.

If your goal is to work within the confines of the system of checks and balances to influence the democratic process and produce transparent legislation and accountable lawmaking, you would want men and women of experience and proven capability. But the Democrats would intend for a Clinton/Castro team to be the public face of the bureaucracy, so they genuinely don’t expect Castro’s lack of experience and Clinton’s lack of accomplishment to get in the way. If there’s anything important that they really need to know, they’ll be sure to read the papers.

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Mrs. Inevitable and the Bored Democrats

Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

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Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

Clinton is hoping that Democrats will enjoy the relative quiet of a non-competitive nomination race to prepare for whoever it is that the Republicans wind up nominating that year. That’s the edge President Obama enjoyed in 2012 as the GOP contenders tore each other apart in a seemingly never-ending series of debates and a bitter primary season leaving Mitt Romney somewhat compromised by the process politically as well as financially.

But what Clinton needs to remember is that while she will be burdened with the disadvantages of incumbency in terms of being tied to Obama’s record and voter dissatisfaction with the president’s policies and the direction of the country, she will not be doing so with the trappings of the commander in chief as the man who beat her in 2008 did two years ago. Clinton will have a compelling, indeed, an unanswerable argument for her election as the first woman major party candidate for the office. But she will also have to deal with the burden of being a relic of the last two Democratic presidents. That’s no real problem for most Democratic primary voters who can’t wait to anoint her as their standard bearer. But the lack of a genuine debate about Clinton’s qualifications in which she can make her case not only in terms of her resume but also as a candidate who can take a punch as well as dish one out won’t help prepare her for the fall campaign.

That’s why the ideal scenario for Clinton is for some not terribly formidable Democrat to oppose her in the primaries without actually mussing up her hair. Seen from that perspective, the best possible scenario would be for Clinton to face off against O’Malley. He wants very much to be president but may see a run as the best way to prove himself in the competition for the vice presidential nod or a major Cabinet post and thus can be relied upon to drop out after a brief fight and then endorse Clinton.

Sanders would give her a much harder time and could not be counted upon to avoid hitting her hard on embarrassing issues such as her lack of achievements as secretary of state. He would also push her farther to the left than is prudent, much in the same way that Romney’s opponents pushed him to the right.

But the real problem with being Mrs. Inevitable in 2016 is that Clinton has yet to prove herself capable of winning a tough election. Should the GOP put up a candidate who will not lead them down a right-wing rabbit hole, Clinton will need to do more than to wave the flag of feminism. The boredom among the Democratic political class as well as among many rank and file voters may ensure that she will not face a stiff primary challenge, but it won’t help gin up enthusiasm for candidacy in the way Obama’s triumph over her did for his presidential hopes. That’s especially true since her success-free tenure as secretary of state has not so much burnished her resume as provided her opponents with more ammunition. While any presidential contender would like to have her problems, the notion that she can merely drift along until it is time to turn on the engine and start running a general election campaign is a mistake she will need to avoid.

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Lacking Achievements, Hillary Invents One

Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

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Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

Hillary Clinton is now claiming to be the architect of crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. But during her tenure as Secretary of State, her department repeatedly opposed or tried to water down an array of measures that were pushed into law by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Rogin offers a corrective:

What Clinton didn’t mention was that top officials from her own State Department—in conjunction with the rest of the Obama administration—often worked hard against many of the measures she’s now championing. Some bills Foggy Bottom slowed down; others, the State Department lobbied to be made less strict; still others were opposed outright by Clinton’s deputies, only to be overruled by large majorities in the House and the Senate. …

The most egregious example of the administration’s effort to slow down the sanctions drive came in late 2011, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez openly chastised top administration officials for opposing an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran that he had co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk. Leading administration officials including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman publicly expressed “strong opposition” (PDF) to the amendment, arguing that it would anger allies by opening them up for punishment if they did not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian oil.

Clinton’s top deputies fought the amendment at every step of the legislative process. Clinton’s #2 at the State Department, Bill Burns, even joined an emergency meeting with top senators to urge them to drop the amendment. They refused. The amendment later passed the Senate 100-0. Menendez said at the time that the administration had negotiated on the amendment in bad faith.

The record is quite clear: Hillary Clinton was a powerful obstacle to effective Iran sanctions. It is a tribute to the hard work and determination of those like Kirk and Menendez to be able to get any sanctions through Clinton and Obama’s dedicated obstruction of efforts to use sanctions to stop or slow Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.

The whole incident is a preview of what 2016 will be like if Hillary does decide to accept her party’s coronation as its new cult leader. The Clinton campaign would indeed be a fairytale ending to a storybook career–just not in the way those terms are traditionally understood. The campaign narrative will be, at best, historical fiction–though closer to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter than the West Wing, in terms of its relationship to the real world.

As Rogin reported, and as ABC News picked up on last night, Kirk is pushing back:

“I worked for months to round-up the votes [in the UN Security Council],” Clinton said. “In the end we were successful… And then building on the framework established by the Security Council, with the help of Congress, the Obama administration imposed some of the most stringent, crippling sanctions on top of the international ones.”

Those sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table earlier this year.

“Secretary Clinton’s comments are a blatant revision of history,” said Kirk, who with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., co-sponsored several sanctions bills in recent years. “The fact is the Obama administration has opposed sanctions against Iran led by Senator Menendez and me every step of the way.”

It’s significant that Kirk is speaking up, because he is neither a conservative firebrand (he is the moderate Republican holding President Obama’s former Senate seat) nor a serial self-promoter, unlike so many of his colleagues. He is also not contemplating running against Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

He is speaking out, quite simply, because Clinton is selling a self-aggrandizing fantasy to the public in hopes of deceiving her way into the White House. In the process, she is demeaning those really responsible for the sanctions. But the silver lining is that her attempt to rewrite history indicates her awareness of just how out of step she is with the American public.

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Hillary’s Rules of Engagement for 2016

It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the cringe-inducing moment on Election Night 2012 when Karl Rove refused to believe President Obama had won Ohio would ever again think of the veteran strategist as a political genius. Rove, whose guru status was earned by piloting George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency and managing his reelection, is still a major player in GOP politics with an influential PAC and is a regular presence in the media. But his ham-handed effort to raise the question of Hillary Clinton’s health damaged him more than it did her. Though everyone agrees that a presidential candidate’s health is fair game for comment, the blowback from the New York Post’s Page Six report of remarks he made about her having possible “brain damage” isn’t likely to convince anyone not to vote for the former secretary of state and first lady and made it harder to take Rove seriously as an analyst.

But that’s not the spin coming from much of the left today. Rather than merely joining much of the mainstream media including a number of leading conservative voices in scratching their heads at Rove’s poor judgment, liberals are using his gaffe not so much to defend Clinton but to prepare the ground for a general counter-offensive against any criticism of the likely Democratic candidate for president in 2016. According to Peter Beinart, Rove’s comments were just the latest example of his “dirty tricks.” Raising Hillary’s health in this manner was, he thought, a calculated attempt to smear the Democrat favorite.

While Beinart is right to note that “defining” one’s opponent in a pejorative fashion has become an integral part of American politics, the furious pushback from Clinton’s camp and the universal outrage from liberals about Rove’s temerity in even discussing any possible flaws in her armor smacks of something other than high-minded disdain for gutter politics. If Rove’s comments were, as Beinart suggests, among the first shots fired in the 2016 campaign, it appears most of the bullets are flying not at the Democrat but at her detractors. Like the outrage on the left about the notion of Clinton being forced to answer questions about Benghazi or why she failed to designate the Boko Haram Islamists as terrorists two years ago, the main point to be gleaned from this dustup is not the nastiness of the GOP but a strategy in which any and all criticism of Clinton is viewed as just another dastardly instance of a Republican war on women.

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It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the cringe-inducing moment on Election Night 2012 when Karl Rove refused to believe President Obama had won Ohio would ever again think of the veteran strategist as a political genius. Rove, whose guru status was earned by piloting George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency and managing his reelection, is still a major player in GOP politics with an influential PAC and is a regular presence in the media. But his ham-handed effort to raise the question of Hillary Clinton’s health damaged him more than it did her. Though everyone agrees that a presidential candidate’s health is fair game for comment, the blowback from the New York Post’s Page Six report of remarks he made about her having possible “brain damage” isn’t likely to convince anyone not to vote for the former secretary of state and first lady and made it harder to take Rove seriously as an analyst.

But that’s not the spin coming from much of the left today. Rather than merely joining much of the mainstream media including a number of leading conservative voices in scratching their heads at Rove’s poor judgment, liberals are using his gaffe not so much to defend Clinton but to prepare the ground for a general counter-offensive against any criticism of the likely Democratic candidate for president in 2016. According to Peter Beinart, Rove’s comments were just the latest example of his “dirty tricks.” Raising Hillary’s health in this manner was, he thought, a calculated attempt to smear the Democrat favorite.

While Beinart is right to note that “defining” one’s opponent in a pejorative fashion has become an integral part of American politics, the furious pushback from Clinton’s camp and the universal outrage from liberals about Rove’s temerity in even discussing any possible flaws in her armor smacks of something other than high-minded disdain for gutter politics. If Rove’s comments were, as Beinart suggests, among the first shots fired in the 2016 campaign, it appears most of the bullets are flying not at the Democrat but at her detractors. Like the outrage on the left about the notion of Clinton being forced to answer questions about Benghazi or why she failed to designate the Boko Haram Islamists as terrorists two years ago, the main point to be gleaned from this dustup is not the nastiness of the GOP but a strategy in which any and all criticism of Clinton is viewed as just another dastardly instance of a Republican war on women.

In 2012 Democrats devoted more effort to smearing Mitt Romney than in defending Obama’s poor record as president. It worked, as by the time voters went to the polls that November Romney, who is one of the most decent men to run for the presidency in recent memory, had been tarred as a rapacious capitalist as well as a high school bully and a man who tied his dog to the roof of his car. That Republicans failed to defend him adequately or to highlight what a mensch he actually was is to their discredit. But perhaps their real mistake was in acting as if those attempting to cut him down had a right to do so.

Clinton’s defenders are, however, not making that mistake.

While paying lip service to the notion that the health of presidential candidates is fair game, the counterattack to Rove’s remarks has not been so much about the inaccuracy of the Post’s quotes (and Rove says he was misquoted) but to depict him as a bully who is cleverly (!) trying to intimidate the Democrat frontrunner. If Rove’s decision to inject Hillary’s health into the political discussion was as premeditated as liberals assert, neither is it an accident that the left is so determined to squelch even the merest hint of a debate about any potential problem for Clinton.

Rather than stick to the facts about her health—which I hope is as good as her spokesman says it is—or to claim that she made no mistakes on Benghazi or Boko Haram, not to mention the other terrible blunders she committed as secretary of state like the Russia reset, Clinton’s defenders are doing something different. What we are witnessing now is proof that they are prepared to answer any attacks with a scorched earth approach that will make any mainstream conservative think twice before trying to muss up her hair, let alone make a point about her supposedly glittering resume for high office. Anyone making any attack on her, whether reasoned or as goofy as Rove’s comments, will be the subject of the kind of opprobrium that was once only leveled at other candidates.

What Democrats are doing now is to establish rules of engagement that will insulate Clinton in much the same manner that Obama was protected by charging his opponents with racism no matter what the substance of their criticism. Though Rove doesn’t deserve much sympathy, his demolition is a warning shot fired at the GOP to show that all criticism of Hillary will be treated as a dirty trick or a sexist assault on the first female president.

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Can Hillary Play the Victim on Benghazi?

If there was one reason why House Democrats have finally decided that they had no choice but to take part in the House Select Committee that will investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack it can be summed up in two words: Hillary Clinton. As Committee Chair Trey Gowdy indicated, Republicans have some questions for the former secretary of state about the event that weren’t asked during her sole appearance before a congressional committee, let alone in a State Department report that, as Byron York aptly commented in the Washington Examiner, was principally concerned with building “a fire wall” around the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats know that without their presence on the committee, Clinton will be left alone to face questioners that won’t let her get away with dismissing criticisms by merely asking “What difference does it make?”

But Democrats are not content to merely stand by and wait for Clinton to be called to account for this, the most spectacular of the failures that she presided over at the State Department. They’re already laying the groundwork for not only a defense of Clinton’s record of non-achievement but for discrediting any attempt to question her closely. As former top Obama strategist David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, liberals view the prospect of her being grilled by Gowdy and other Republicans as an act of “bullying.” Regardless of the facts of the case—and it is by no means certain that Clinton will emerge from even the most rigorous of inquires as anything worse than an out-of-touch globetrotting secretary who never gave security in Benghazi a passing thought—Democrats are seeking to insulate her from any scrutiny by claiming that tough questions should be seen as part of the faux Republican “war on women” they have touted as one of their main political talking points.

The question is, will she, and they, get away with it?

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If there was one reason why House Democrats have finally decided that they had no choice but to take part in the House Select Committee that will investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack it can be summed up in two words: Hillary Clinton. As Committee Chair Trey Gowdy indicated, Republicans have some questions for the former secretary of state about the event that weren’t asked during her sole appearance before a congressional committee, let alone in a State Department report that, as Byron York aptly commented in the Washington Examiner, was principally concerned with building “a fire wall” around the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats know that without their presence on the committee, Clinton will be left alone to face questioners that won’t let her get away with dismissing criticisms by merely asking “What difference does it make?”

But Democrats are not content to merely stand by and wait for Clinton to be called to account for this, the most spectacular of the failures that she presided over at the State Department. They’re already laying the groundwork for not only a defense of Clinton’s record of non-achievement but for discrediting any attempt to question her closely. As former top Obama strategist David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, liberals view the prospect of her being grilled by Gowdy and other Republicans as an act of “bullying.” Regardless of the facts of the case—and it is by no means certain that Clinton will emerge from even the most rigorous of inquires as anything worse than an out-of-touch globetrotting secretary who never gave security in Benghazi a passing thought—Democrats are seeking to insulate her from any scrutiny by claiming that tough questions should be seen as part of the faux Republican “war on women” they have touted as one of their main political talking points.

The question is, will she, and they, get away with it?

Hillary Clinton is a fascinating political figure in large measure because her success has been built on creating an image as a tough political customer as well as a person who has cashed in on her victimhood. Though she did nothing as secretary of state to bolster the notion that she is the tough-as-nails centrist that her admirers claim her to be, the assumption among many pundits is that her approach to foreign policy is an asset for Democrats who have shucked their party’s former stance as weak on defense. Yet it should also be remembered that Clinton’s election to the Senate was in no small measure the result of her ability to play the victim in the Monica Lewinsky scandal set off by her husband’s affair.

Not only did she played the wronged woman who nevertheless stood by her man beautifully, the most memorable moment in her Senate campaign—indeed, the one that sealed her comfortable victory—was when GOP opponent Rick Lazio stepped over to her podium to address her during a debate. Rightly or wrongly, getting in Hillary’s space was seen as the moral equivalent of an actual assault and doomed whatever slim hopes Lazio might have had of pulling off an upset. And what Democrats are praying for in the Benghazi hearings is another such incident that can be played and relayed endlessly showing Republicans to be bullies who tried and failed to beat down a brave woman.

While such a narrative will be as much balderdash as Clinton’s previous forays into victimhood, it could nevertheless be useful to Democrats both in 2014 as they try to gin up their turnout rates to avoid another midterm blowout as well as for Hillary’s 2016 efforts.

But the assumption that Republicans will play into her hands may be faulty. Gowdy is a wily former prosecutor and while that has led some on the left to question his ability to, as he pledges, conduct an impartial investigation, he is well aware of the trap that is being set for him. Gowdy will be sure to try to avoid hectoring or personal attacks on Clinton. More to the point, he will be intent on crafting a process that will enable him and his colleagues to press her for answers that have so far not been forthcoming. If faced with gentlemanly yet pointed questions and Hillary starts to grandstand in a “what difference does it make?” manner, she will be the loser, not Gowdy. Witnesses who play the victim in that manner must understand that they are as likely to mess up as their accusers.

Rather than looking forward to what they think will be the next chapter in their “war on women” novella, Democrats may find that Clinton will wind up looking as lame as she often did in her 2008 debates with Barack Obama. As was the case then, whining about being liked or bullied will not be enough to derail tough questions or the voters drawing some unflattering conclusions about her ineffective leadership.

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Why Are We Talking About Lewinsky? Not Because of Conservatives.

Although Republicans often find themselves on the wrong end of media bias, they can take some comfort in the periodic reminders of just how much said media care for them, for their reputations, and for their electoral fortunes. That’s the only explanation for the near-constant free, unsolicited advice leaping from the pages of major newspapers, helpfully informing Republicans exactly what not to do.

This paternalistic instinct is reasserting itself as Monica Lewinsky returns to the spotlight. By now you’ve probably heard: Lewinsky penned a piece for the newest issue of Vanity Fair about her post-scandal recovery from the humiliation of being that intern. So, like it or not, Lewinsky is back in the news. What does this have to do with Republicans? Nothing yet–and the media would like it to stay that way. Here’s Chris Cillizza:

The one-time paramour of the sitting president of the United States is featured in Vanity Fair breaking her silence and telling her side of the story. Even though that story isn’t out yet, it’s already one of the most clicked-on pieces of content on the Internet.

The temptation for Republicans in all of this is obvious.  Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and an early favorite to keep the White House for her party.  Knocking Clinton back a bit has to be the focus of not just Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 but of the entire GOP over these next months. Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.

“Seem” is the key word in that last sentence. Dig even slightly below the surface of the Lewinsky issue and you quickly see that Republicans would do well to stay as far away from it as possible.

Here’s the bizarre sentence in that piece of advice that should jump right off the screen at the reader: “Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.” We’re talking about Lewinsky not because Republicans want us to but because Lewinsky wants us to.

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Although Republicans often find themselves on the wrong end of media bias, they can take some comfort in the periodic reminders of just how much said media care for them, for their reputations, and for their electoral fortunes. That’s the only explanation for the near-constant free, unsolicited advice leaping from the pages of major newspapers, helpfully informing Republicans exactly what not to do.

This paternalistic instinct is reasserting itself as Monica Lewinsky returns to the spotlight. By now you’ve probably heard: Lewinsky penned a piece for the newest issue of Vanity Fair about her post-scandal recovery from the humiliation of being that intern. So, like it or not, Lewinsky is back in the news. What does this have to do with Republicans? Nothing yet–and the media would like it to stay that way. Here’s Chris Cillizza:

The one-time paramour of the sitting president of the United States is featured in Vanity Fair breaking her silence and telling her side of the story. Even though that story isn’t out yet, it’s already one of the most clicked-on pieces of content on the Internet.

The temptation for Republicans in all of this is obvious.  Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and an early favorite to keep the White House for her party.  Knocking Clinton back a bit has to be the focus of not just Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 but of the entire GOP over these next months. Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.

“Seem” is the key word in that last sentence. Dig even slightly below the surface of the Lewinsky issue and you quickly see that Republicans would do well to stay as far away from it as possible.

Here’s the bizarre sentence in that piece of advice that should jump right off the screen at the reader: “Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.” We’re talking about Lewinsky not because Republicans want us to but because Lewinsky wants us to.

The only Republican who has really made this an issue was Rand Paul, when the senator brought up the scandal more than three months ago. But there’s an obvious reason Paul mentioned it:

Paul, a potential 2016 GOP presidential nominee, also said that the Democrats’ argument that Republicans are waging a “War on Women” by opposing coverage for birth control in Obamacare and by opposing abortion is undercut by the memory of Bill Clinton as a sexual predator.

“One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses should not prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior….. Then they (Democrats) have the gall to stand up and say, ‘Republicans are having a war on women.’ ”

Indeed, Paul had the temerity to remind the public that the Democrats’ phony “war on women” narrative was completely and totally disingenuous. The party that worships Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and others like them is not a party that cares a whit for the wellbeing of young women. It’s true that Paul probably didn’t need to keep bringing it up, but he also understood that he struck a nerve.

The war on women was relevant more to Bill than to Hillary. Bill Clinton gave the major speech at the Democratic National Convention renominating Obama on the same night that Sandra Fluke gave a stock “war on women” convention speech. The irony may have been lost on Democrats, but the contrast was pretty glaring. Either way, Paul’s purpose was not really to attack Hillary or even Lewinsky, but Bill Clinton and the entire dishonest Democratic establishment, which is what really bothered people.

There’s one other aspect of this worth mentioning. Not only did Vanity Fair publish Lewinsky’s dramatic return, but it’s liberal writers who want to talk about it–and tie it directly to Hillary. Here’s the New Republic declaring that “Monica Lewinsky Is the Perfect Person to Kick Off the Conversation About Hillary Clinton’s Presidency.” And here’s Slate’s Amanda Hess reminding readers how obsessively Maureen Dowd trashed Lewinsky at the time, and that Dowd seems positively elated to take more cheap shots at Lewinsky this time around, no doubt feeling the exhilaration of relevance for the first time since, well, probably since the last time she was trashing Lewinsky.

Those attacking Lewinsky are liberals; those desperate to use Lewinsky to talk about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign are liberals; those actually defending Lewinsky from a predatory cad–those are conservatives. And that’s when liberals step in to tell them to pipe down.

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Assessing John Kerry

Almost all secretaries of state believe they shine but for most, their legacy is at best basic competence. Amidst all their ceremonial trips, with hindsight it is clear that for the majority, their legacy is simply to have done no harm. This certainly would be the case for Hillary Clinton, a woman who famously cannot name her accomplishments as secretary, as well as Bush-era secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Rice’s whole strategy was to make no waves and while Powell’s detractors point to his speech before the United Nations laying out the rationale for war against Iraq, that was less his initiative than the consensus policy of the Bush administration. Warren Christopher’s tenure was largely forgettable, and his successor Madeleine Albright was likewise just a manager. While I disagree with them on many issues, James Baker and Henry Kissinger set themselves apart, although for Baker, his success may have been less because of personal abilities and more the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Secretary of State John Kerry may be the exception: He has defined himself as a truly lousy secretary of state, with almost everything he touches turning to vinegar: The Middle East peace process is in shambles. Had Kerry simply ignored the process, the hurdles facing the two sides would be less. And, because of some ill-chosen and self-defeating words, there is virtually no choice to revive such talks under Kerry. While Vladimir Putin is the villain when it comes to the situation in Eastern Europe, the reverberations which the United States will feel for the impotency under Kerry’s watch will be felt for years to come. Libya continues to disintegrate; the Egyptians remain furious at American waffling; freedom-seeking Venezuelans wonder what American silence means; Argentina salivates over the Falklands; and a whole host of allies from Japan and South Korea to the Philippines and Indonesia fear what American weakness means in East Asia.

The Iran deal seems to be shaping up to be predicated on a willingness to sacrifice its substance rather than to win an agreement that bolsters regional or national security. Regardless, it’s hard to count as a success an agreement that has yet to be struck, especially with Tehran’s penchant for throwing a last-minute wrench into the cogs.

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Almost all secretaries of state believe they shine but for most, their legacy is at best basic competence. Amidst all their ceremonial trips, with hindsight it is clear that for the majority, their legacy is simply to have done no harm. This certainly would be the case for Hillary Clinton, a woman who famously cannot name her accomplishments as secretary, as well as Bush-era secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Rice’s whole strategy was to make no waves and while Powell’s detractors point to his speech before the United Nations laying out the rationale for war against Iraq, that was less his initiative than the consensus policy of the Bush administration. Warren Christopher’s tenure was largely forgettable, and his successor Madeleine Albright was likewise just a manager. While I disagree with them on many issues, James Baker and Henry Kissinger set themselves apart, although for Baker, his success may have been less because of personal abilities and more the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Secretary of State John Kerry may be the exception: He has defined himself as a truly lousy secretary of state, with almost everything he touches turning to vinegar: The Middle East peace process is in shambles. Had Kerry simply ignored the process, the hurdles facing the two sides would be less. And, because of some ill-chosen and self-defeating words, there is virtually no choice to revive such talks under Kerry. While Vladimir Putin is the villain when it comes to the situation in Eastern Europe, the reverberations which the United States will feel for the impotency under Kerry’s watch will be felt for years to come. Libya continues to disintegrate; the Egyptians remain furious at American waffling; freedom-seeking Venezuelans wonder what American silence means; Argentina salivates over the Falklands; and a whole host of allies from Japan and South Korea to the Philippines and Indonesia fear what American weakness means in East Asia.

The Iran deal seems to be shaping up to be predicated on a willingness to sacrifice its substance rather than to win an agreement that bolsters regional or national security. Regardless, it’s hard to count as a success an agreement that has yet to be struck, especially with Tehran’s penchant for throwing a last-minute wrench into the cogs.

Perhaps the only success to which Kerry can point is the deal for Syria to forfeit its chemical-weapons arsenal, never mind that a cynic could see the precedent as rogue leaders getting a free shot to kill 1,400 civilians before coming in from the cold. In recent weeks, however, even that deal appears to be less than meets the eye. Last month, the Syrian regime apparently again used chemical weapons, an incident blogged about at the time and an attack subsequently acknowledged by the State Department, even if the State Department spokesman declined to assess blame.

Subsequently, the Brown Moses Blog, which tends to be the most careful and credible open source resource on Syrian chemical weapons, has posted video outlining claims of a new attack in Al-Tamanah. While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says Syria has complied with the removal or disposal of Syrian chemical material, it is important to remember that is based on what Syria has declared, and there is no way of knowing whether it includes all Syrian chemical munitions. Meanwhile, the OPCW has concluded “sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia” in the aftermath of apparent regime attacks on civilians in northern Syria. And so, while Kerry celebrates, Syrians suffocate.

Let us hope that Kerry can redeem himself. But if there’s one lesson he might learn as he assesses his tenure so far, it’s that he isn’t the center of the world and desire and rhetoric aren’t enough to win success. Perhaps he might look at his failures and recognize that many problems are more complicated than he—or the staff charged with preparing him—seems to recognize. In the meantime, while he assesses where the United States was diplomatically when he took office and where it is today, he might remember the maxim for doctors could just as easily apply to himself: First, do no harm.

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Why Hillary Attacks the Press: It Works

One of the memorable moments of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary debates in 2008 was when Clinton referenced a Saturday Night Live sketch poking fun at the kid gloves with which the media treated Obama. It was easy to see why Clinton was unhappy with the press: they were captivated by Obama and had begun treating Clinton like a Republican.

But as a fascinating piece in Politico explains, Clinton’s antipathy for the political press has deep roots. While many observers might think Clinton got tougher treatment in 2008 because of her Democratic opponent (who obviously wouldn’t be on the ballot next time) and that she can expect the kind of adoring press in 2016 that Obama received at her expense in 2008, the Politico piece makes it clear Clinton sees it very differently:

If Clinton says yes, she’ll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn’t run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right. …

When asked why Clinton hasn’t done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like—then abruptly cut to the chase:

“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”

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One of the memorable moments of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary debates in 2008 was when Clinton referenced a Saturday Night Live sketch poking fun at the kid gloves with which the media treated Obama. It was easy to see why Clinton was unhappy with the press: they were captivated by Obama and had begun treating Clinton like a Republican.

But as a fascinating piece in Politico explains, Clinton’s antipathy for the political press has deep roots. While many observers might think Clinton got tougher treatment in 2008 because of her Democratic opponent (who obviously wouldn’t be on the ballot next time) and that she can expect the kind of adoring press in 2016 that Obama received at her expense in 2008, the Politico piece makes it clear Clinton sees it very differently:

If Clinton says yes, she’ll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn’t run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right. …

When asked why Clinton hasn’t done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like—then abruptly cut to the chase:

“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”

In fairness to Clinton, some of the press she’s received has indeed been sexist–though a great deal more of it has been fawning precisely because of her potential historic status. She’s also been in public life long enough to believe the source who told Politico her opinion of the press is not going to change.

But this is more than working the refs. As the article notes, Clinton’s strategy for combating bad press and preventing future bad press is not simply regurgitating SNL lines or accusing reporters of sexism. The Clintons have always practiced the politics of personal destruction, and this is no different. Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty picks out what is undoubtedly the most disturbing sentence in the story:

To this day she’s surrounded herself with media conspiracy theorists who remain some of her favorite confidants, urged wealthy allies to bankroll independent organizations tasked with knee-capping reporters perceived as unfriendly, withdrawn into a gilded shell when attacked and rolled her eyes at several generations of aides who suggested she reach out to journalists rather than just disdaining them.

“In a sane world,” Geraghty writes, “this would prompt a lot of people to doubt they want this person in the Oval Office”–especially, he notes, people in the media. Indeed, they are currently dealing with an obsessively secretive and thin-skinned president (today’s press briefing with Jay Carney was a rather astounding example of this) and probably don’t want to do so again.

But here’s the thing: folks in the press more or less know this–though maybe aren’t aware of the extent of it–and they already know she despises them. (They also know Barack Obama despises them.) And–it’s worked. Here, for example, is how the story opens:

Over the 25 years Hillary Clinton has spent in the national spotlight, she’s been smeared and stereotyped, the subject of dozens of over-hyped or downright fictional stories and books alleging, among other things, that she is a lesbian, a Black Widow killer who offed Vincent Foster then led an unprecedented coverup, a pathological liar, a real estate swindler, a Commie, a harridan. Every aspect of her personal life has been ransacked; there’s no part of her 5-foot-7-inch body that hasn’t come under microscopic scrutiny, from her ankles to her neckline to her myopic blue eyes—not to mention the ever-changing parade of hairstyles that friends say reflects creative restlessness and enemies read as a symbol of somebody who doesn’t stand for anything.

Forget all that troubled history, and a Clinton run for president in 2016 seems like a no-brainer, an inevitable next step after the redemption of her past few years as a well-regarded, if not quite historic, secretary of state. But remember the record, and you’ll understand why Clinton, although rested, rich and seemingly ready, has yet to commit to a presidential race (people around her insist it’s not greater than a 50-50 proposition), even as she’s an overwhelming favorite.

Got that? Clinton, who has hated the press for twenty years and worked to undermine and discredit them for much of that time period, still has her “negative” press stories open up with two paragraphs proclaiming her a victim and declaring her treatment so unfair as to be reason enough for her not to want to run.

In other words, the press’s attitude to Clinton’s malicious and career-threatening campaign against them is to declare themselves the problem! Is Clinton’s press really so bad if her unflattering stories must begin with two hundred words of apologetic throat-clearing? I think not. And if Clinton doesn’t really think so, then she is astoundingly dishonest. If she does really think so, then she is sealed off from reality. Either way, her behavior toward the press gets results, and it would only get more pronounced if she does run for president.

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Why Americans Seem So Torn on Foreign Policy

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

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Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Max notes the central contradiction in the results: the pollsters asked Americans what they thought (in addition to a bevy of other issues) about foreign policy, and Americans responded, essentially, that they have no idea. They succumbed to a kind of magical thinking on foreign policy in which they want the U.S. to pull back from the world without creating a vacuum–a logical impossibility. They appear frustrated that when America plays a reduced role in world affairs its influence is replaced by Vladimir Putin instead of unicorns and labradoodles (I’m paraphrasing slightly).

But on some level that confusion is understandable because the president of the United States is arguing out loud with the straw men in his head, claiming that the alternative to toothless sanctions is total world war. Americans at home may see this as the amusing inanity of an ideologue who is losing an argument, but it’s doubtful the Europeans are laughing. It turns out there is some middle ground between treating Putin like Gilly from Saturday Night Live and nuking Moscow, though you wouldn’t know it from the commander in chief.

The fact of the matter is, as I’ve noted from time to time, the president has a unique ability to shape public opinion on foreign policy, more so than on domestic policy. Americans have internalized the president as both the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the armed forces of the planet’s only superpower. So the public is not going to be easily persuaded on the goodness of American power projection by this administration.

Looking forward, again, Europeans are probably not too encouraged. The Democrats are seeking to succeed Obama with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who presided over the failed Russian “reset,” chewed out allies like Israel, and expressed regret to Pakistan–which cooperates with anti-American terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden–for past American policy. On the right, the debate looks to be more interesting, not least because unlike the Democrats the Republicans do want to have an actual debate, not a coronation.

Sentiments like those expressed in the poll are reflected in the way the Republican race for the nomination has taken shape so far. The president’s abject failures have opened space for those who can present a serious alternative. That means that Republicans with the most success so far have been those like Scott Walker and Rand Paul, with the former proving conservative governance can fix even deep and costly liberal mismanagement and the latter making a thoughtful case for individual liberty in the face of liberal attacks on basic freedoms.

But the effect on the foreign-policy debate has been muted. Paul advocates retrenchment (though without the apology tour, one suspects) and has warned not to “tweak Russia.” Others like Walker seem to disagree with Paul on foreign policy but as the governor of a Midwestern state locked in a battle with government unions in the midst of the dismal Obama economy, the issue doesn’t exactly come up very often. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who possesses one of the stronger resumes of the potential 2016 class, has started branching out a bit more into foreign affairs but remains mired in a debate over education policy back home. Others are facing similar circumstances, with the high-profile exception of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has dropped a bit in the polls recently, but he has not shied away from displaying his fluency in foreign affairs or striking a contrast to Paul’s perspective.

So yes, Americans are inclined toward the maintenance of a peaceable world order, and they are persuadable on the need for America to protect that order with a robust presence on the world stage. But they’re not going to get there on their own.

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Democrats and the Forever (Culture) War

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

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The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

The Post notes that there isn’t much evidence that such issues could turn the Democrats’ electoral momentum around. They tend to be base issues, but the usual drop in turnout for non-presidential years means Democrats are likely to need a broader coalition. To do that, they would need to make headway on ObamaCare. The Post details the split on the left on how to do that, shining some light the fact that the Obama White House might be a more significant obstacle for them than Republicans:

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that 8 million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. …

A number of Democratic strategists are urging their candidates to campaign on a message that calls for continued implementation of the law, with some fixes. These strategists say that message is more popular than the “repeal and replace” theme of the Republicans.

Democrats want to be able to offer legislative fixes to ObamaCare. This is perfectly logical; even if Republicans are correct about all the damage the law is doing, it’s easy to see why an argument that rolling “fixes” to correct the immediate ObamaCare-caused crises would appeal to those currently experiencing those crises. Republicans in Congress are amenable to this, having supported legislation to unburden the public with some of the more damaging aspects of ObamaCare.

But Obama doesn’t want such legislative fixes, for two reasons. First, he’s not exactly Mr. Humility. He tends, instead, to live in a bubble and simply ignore the facts that conflict with his ideological inflexibility. He prefers “the debate is over” and “the Affordable Care Act is working” to something more nuanced and self-critical. Second, the changes he does make to ObamaCare are done quietly (see reason No. 1) and lawlessly, by executive discretion. He doesn’t see a reason to pass new legislation when he’s ignoring the legislation it’s built on. You have to admit, there’s a certain calculated rationality to it.

But Democrats are united on the “war on women” they’ve invented, and will thus seek new ways to press this delusion. At times, this produces some unintentional comedy, as when male Democrats use this playbook against female Republicans. Male Democrats running on the “women hate women” platform are probably going to struggle to connect to any voters not already in their camp. One example of this was Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, who is running against Terri Lynn Land. Land’s response was priceless, and appropriate.

More broadly, Democrats use the “war on women” construct to argue for unlimited abortion, one of the more divisive social issues of the day. And the Post notes they possess an advantage on the issue of gay marriage, which, along with the Obama administration’s insistence on taxpayer funded birth control, has become a centerpiece of the left’s efforts to punish thought-outliers and erode religious liberty. If the Democrats are going to double down on their perceived strengths for the midterms, that will likely mean firing many more shots in the culture war. And with the party prepared to anoint Hillary Clinton two years later, don’t expect it to let up any time soon.

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